Angkor vs. Bagan: Which Should You Visit?

Angkor vs. Bagan: Which Should You Visit?

Trying to decide between Cambodia’s Angkor and Myanmar’s Bagan? Let this guide, covering the historical sites and beyond, help you pick!

Angkor in Cambodia or Bagan in Myanmar?

Both of them are renowned for their impressive architectural styles, massive temples and beautiful sceneries. Bagan is the pride of Burmese people and the same goes with Angkor Wat for Cambodian people. 

If you are in the dilemma of which to visit, this article will give you some insights.

A little background

Bagan Empire was the first kingdom founded by King Anawrahta in the 9th Century, and the King had been a huge advocate of spreading Buddhism all across Myanmar. During the peak of the Bagan Empire, there were over 10,000 temples that were built across Bagan. Due to wars and natural disasters, the total number of temples and pagodas has been reduced to over 2,000 nowadays. Bagan still boasts thousands of temples that will definitely impress you during your trip to Bagan and you will never want to leave this ancient city once you set foot in it.

Khmer Empire began around the 8th Century and it lasted until the 15th Century. King Suryavarman II was the most renowned king of Khmer Empire who built the world’s wonder “Angkor Wat” during his era. The King built Angkor Wat as a dedication to the Hindu god Vishnu. As Angkor is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it is well-preserved with the help of international organisations. The beauty and grandeur of Angkor temples still remain the same despite the fact that they have been existing since the beginning of the Khmer Empire.  

Entrance Fees

Verdict: Bagan > Angkor

In Bagan, the entrance fee to visit all temples (over 2,000 of them!) is merely 25,000 Kyats (about $20) for five days. The price is relatively cheaper compared to that of Angkor, which costs $37 per day. The ticket can be upgraded to $62 for three days and $72 for seven days.

Gigantic Temples

angkor vs bagan

Angkor Wat

Verdict: Angkor > Bagan

Temples in Angkor are usually gigantic and it can take at least one hour even for a fast-paced traveller to walk around Angkor Wat. You will be surrounded by mural paintings and welcomed by three Hindu Gods – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva – as you enter the first gateway of Angkor Wat.

Moreover, there’s the Bayon temple where you can see four huge faces of Buddha images which represent Kindness (Metta), Compassion (Karuna), Sympathetic Joy (Mudita), Equanimity (Upekkha), the four core principles of Lord Buddha. Ta Prohm, the place where Hollywood movie Tomb Raider was shot, is another massive temple with twirling trees hanging around the buildings across the compound.

Varieties of Temples

angkor vs bagan

Than Bin Nyu temple

Verdict: Bagan > Angkor

It is only in Bagan that you can find various styles of pagodas.

Dhammayangyi Pagoda is known for its immense structure whereas That Bin Nyu is known for being the highest temple. Ananda Temple is famous for its architectural style and Mya Zedi is famous for the ancient scriptures in the pagoda.

Each of the temples has different historical backgrounds to offer to visitors and if you would like to follow a local’s itinerary, you can visit four temples, namely Shwe Zigon, Lawkanandar, Tu Ywin Taung and Tant Kyi Taung. Burmese people believe that if you can visit all these four pagodas before noon and make wishes, your wishes will be fulfilled.

Sunrise/Sunset Viewpoints

Sunrise view of Bagan

Verdict: Bagan > Angkor

There are multiple places from which you can view the sunrise in Bagan. Two of the most popular places for viewing the sunrise in Bagan are Shwesandaw Pagoda and Pyathetgyi Pagoda. The only downside of these two spots is that they are usually crowded with many people. So, it is recommended to arrive before 4.30pm to be able to secure a good spot. Another place to view the sunrise in Bagan is at Buu Phaya which is located on the Ayeyarwaddy river bank.

Food

Fish Amok curry with rice

Verdict: Angkor > Bagan

When I first visited Siem Reap, I was quite amazed to find how cheap the foods are in the city. The national dish of Cambodia, Fish Amok (fish that is cooked with coconut), costs about $6 and that portion can usually be shared between two people. Cambodian cuisine is quite similar to other neighbouring countries, like Thailand, as both use coconut abundantly in their curries and the sweet taste is very strong in many of their dishes.

A decent meal would cost around $4–6 in Cambodia and there is also one buffet place in Pub Street named Koulen Restaurant & Live Performance where you can enjoy both food and Apsara dance at a price of only $12.

Compared to Cambodian food, Burmese foods are usually rich in flavour and the taste is strong. Burmese cuisines are also known for the generous use of oils in their dishes. An average cost of dining at a good restaurant in Bagan may cost you around $10.

Nightlife

Pub Street | Image credit: Adam Foster

Verdict: Angkor > Bagan

Pub Street in Siem Reap is popular among tourists and it is quite close to the downtown area. You can enjoy different foods there, ranging from traditional Cambodian food, Chinese cuisine to Western steaks.

Also, if you are an adventurous traveller, this is where you can enjoy local insects (spiders, crickets, scorpions, etc.). Beers are also easily accessible at a cheap price of just $1.25 per bottle. If you do not enjoy drinking, you can also view the epic “Phare” circus to get some glimpse of Cambodian culture and history.

Friendliness of the Local People

angkor vs bagan

Burmese locals with Thanaka on their faces

Verdict: Bagan > Angkor

Myanmar is renowned in Southeast Asia for the friendly nature of the Burmese people. If you get lost in Bagan, they will try to help you despite the language barrier. You will find Burmese people wearing Thanaka (made from the bark of sandalwood) on their faces, and the Burmese usually do not mind tourists taking their photos.

Ease of Communication

Verdict: Angkor > Bagan

One thing that I love most about travelling in Cambodia is that the local people speak good English. Because tourism is the main business industry there, many Cambodians are fluent in English. When you order food, buy souvenirs or hire tuk-tuks, you are unlikely to encounter any communication issues.

Currency Use

Verdict: Angkor > Bagan

Cambodia uses both USD and Cambodian Riel currencies. It is quite surprising for me to find that some shops prefer USD to the local currency. Thus, visitors to Cambodia will not need to worry about exchanging to local currency in Cambodia.

Final Verdict: Where should you visit?

A temple in Angkor

So, the final question is this: if you have limited time and still have not decided whether to visit Bagan or Angkor, where should you go?

For me, I personally prefer Angkor to Bagan. I am really amazed by the architectural style of Angkor Wat and visiting it twice still wasn’t enough for me! However, that does not mean that Bagan is not worth visiting. Bagan has its own story, and it’s not possible to put both of these historical sites side by side and give them a fair rating.

If you have enough time to visit both of these places, then do just that.

One thing I can promise is that no matter where you decide to visit, you’ll have an unforgettable journey. So, what are you waiting for? Start packing your luggage and visit one or both of these amazing historical places in Southeast Asia.

About Author

Zaw Ye Naing
Zaw Ye Naing

Zaw enjoys three things in life the most: eating, making new friends, and travelling. To enjoy all three things that he loves, he often travels where he can eat new dishes and make new friends. Zaw has travelled extensively in Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam) and it does not matter whether he has to travel alone or with the group. All that matters to him is to travel.

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